Skip to Main Content

College of University Libraries and Learning Sciences News

2024 Inspiring Graduate | Monica Etsitty-Dorame

by Sara Velasquez on 2024-05-28T13:59:17-06:00 in Library, OILS | 0 Comments

Written by Savannah Peat - Original article:

“In Diné culture, there is a saying of ‘T'áá hó'ájitéégóó, t'éiyá,’ which means only you make the changes yourself. For me that teaching was always instilled in me, that I'm the only one who can do it. You have your support from your family, your friends, your colleagues, but ultimately, it's you who has to reach your goals. It took me a long time just to even get to this point.”

T'áá hó'ájitéégóó, t'éiyá- there isn’t any other term that perfectly encapsulates the tenacity, humility and sheer awesomeness that is Inspiring Graduate Monica Etsitty-Dorame. 

The College of University Libraries & Learning Sciences (CULLS) Library Operations Manager is getting her Doctorate in Philosophy in Organization, Information, and Learning Sciences (OILS.) She is so accomplished, University Communication and Marketing (UCAM) has been ready to tell her story for three semesters now. 

Diné:  Yáʼátʼééh¸ shí éí Monica Etsitty-Dorame yinishyé. Shi dóone'e éí Tábąąhá nishłį́ dóó Tótsohnii báshíshchíín. Honágháahnii dashícheii dóó Táchii'nii dashinálí. Hastą́diin shinaahai. Bee'eldíil Dah Sinil kééhasht’į́ ndi Tséhootsooídéé’ t’áá ayísí aadéé’ naashá. áádóó tádiin dóó ba'aan 'ashdla' nááhai naaltsoos báhooghanígíí Zimmerman wolyé aadi naashnish. Ákót’éego Diné asdzáán nishłį́. 

English: Hello, my name is Monica Etsitty-Dorame. I am Edge of Water clan and born for the Big Water clan. The One Walks Around clan is my maternal grandfather's clan and the Red Running Into the Water People is my paternal grandfather's clan. I am 60 years old. I live here in Albuquerque and I am originally from Fort Defiance, Arizona. I have worked at Zimmerman library for 35 years. In this way, I present myself as a Diné woman.

“It’s about persistence, hard work and discipline. With all of my family, we had that persistence, hard work and discipline to get to where we wanted to be, actually, and do it on our own, average people,” Dorame said. “Maybe it's just something that is within me, to push on, and now, I don't even know what my next goal will be yet.” 

Me and Doug

Photo caption: Dorame and her husband, Doug

Dorame hails from Fort Defiance, Arizona. She is of Edge of Water clan and born for the Big Water clan. The One Walks Around clan is her maternal grandfather's clan and the Red Running Into the Water People is her paternal grandfather's clan. 

Her incredible streak of academic and work successes began within these clans. Although she didn’t know it at the time, her dissertation would be based on Native women who made everything what it was then. 

“There's so many people that impacted my journey throughout life: my husband, my daughters, my mother, both my grandmothers, my aunt, all the women in my family, they're definitely the support network that has held me together and retained everything that I am,” Dorame said. 

Great-Grandma Emma and Grandma Alice were the testament to the word matriarch. Dorame’s mother, now 83, also helped instill that pride and determination in her and her siblings. 

“My great-grandmother and grandmother lived on the reservation. They had their farm, their animals, and raised their families. My great-grandmother only completed up to the third grade and my grandmother didn't go to school at all. She stayed home to care for the animals and farm. They just both had that survival instinct and resiliency of surviving. They were leaders in their own right,” she said.  

Dorame wasn’t entirely clear on the concept of college, but knew at 6th grade that a doctorate degree was in her future.

“A speaker came to our school talking about receiving a Ph.D. I didn't know what that was.  I really wasn't too familiar with college. I knew that I needed to go to college, but I didn't know what that Ph.D. was. The person who was talking to us said it's very important to continue with your education, and for me, it was always a goal. It was a life goal even when I finally found out what it was about. I wanted to attain my Ph.D., and here I am,” she said.  

After brief trial runs at University of Arizona and University of Colorado-Boulder, Dorame met her husband, Doug, and made the move to the Land of Enchantment. 

While she immediately tried to uphold the goal of an 11-year-old, it wasn’t easy to make the transition to higher education. 

“I actually struggled with the English language in my writing. The teachers would always say, ‘I'm sorry, you have to leave my class because you don't know how to write.’ I didn't know what they meant. I remember so many times at Mitchell Hall I would go in and say, ‘okay, I can handle this,’ and I would end up dropping the English class,” Dorame said.  

Still, Dorame will never forget the day she officially found her footing with an English professor that changed the trajectory of her academic life. 

“It was like night and day when the professor said we needed to write a personal statement. I was really afraid to write that assignment,” she said. “When she was passing back everybody's paper, I didn’t get mine back and thought, ‘oh, my God, mine is going to be the bad paper she's going to read.’ Then, that moment when she said ‘these were exemplary papers,’ I sat there crying in my chair; all these years of dealing with English, and then I got an A and I couldn't believe it.” 

In the past 35 years at UNM, Dorame climbed what other people may have perceived as a never ending ladder. In being a mom, a worker, and a student, it took Dorame 10 years to earn her bachelor’s in American studies; it also took her five years to earn her master’s in public administration. Her doctorate – her third degree from UNM– took her five and a half years.  

“I pretty much have lived on campus I feel like, my second home. I've definitely seen so many changes on campus just being a student and working as staff here,” she said.  

It should come as no surprise that her own mother Rose had a very similar, tireless climb in the path she chose. 

“My mother became a physician's assistant and had her own struggles as well. When she was in Dallas going to school, she had to let my brother go back home to my grandma, which was devastating for her,” Dorame said. “She kept me with her, but it was very much a struggle because she had to find daycare for me during the day. She worked her way up as well, from medical records to LPN nurse and then nurse practitioner. Eventually somebody saw her talent and she became a physician's assistant through UNM-Gallup.” 

That patience continued in her work as well at UNM. She started as a student employee at Parish Memorial Library, progressed to Centennial Library, and then got a staff position as a library technical assistant in Zimmerman Library in Government Information. 

“It took me 22 years to finally move up the ladder here when I first started in 1989. Now I'm the library operations manager of government information, but it took colleagues to recognize the work that I do. The discipline that I have is one of the places people don't want to work. It involves confusing call numbers, technical reports, legislative materials, and finding obscure information. It’s viewed as a complicated type of work to do,” Dorame said. 

Saying Dorame loved (and still loves) the library is a colossal understatement. She often jokes that Zimmerman is her house, given how much time she has spent there over decades. In getting her doctorate she would frequently find herself there from open to close. 

Her daughters Dinée and Nena set up camp in Zimmerman as children as well.  

“Because of my struggles with English and writing, I made sure that they came to the library. The library is one of the most important places that you can be, and I taught them how to use the library from the basics. This is how you look for a book. Here's a call number. I taught them how to research, go to databases and that type of thing,’ Dorame said.  

Dinee Doug Nena

Dorame's family: Dinee, Doug and Nena

That push for quality reasoning and judgment from their mother produced two incredibly intelligent and successful grown women. Dinée graduated from Yale University and Nena attends Stanford. 

“I felt like the fundamentals that they needed to learn were English and math. They did everything on their own after middle school. I didn't have to worry about anything, and so they're both doing really well,” Dorame said.  

While they are extremely accomplished in their own right, it’s clear they think the world of Dorame’s success. When Dinée recently visited campus, she was thrilled to make Dorame the star with her own photoshoot. She helped her mother get ready in her gown, and incorporated a feather into her cap–a tradition she began in her Yale graduation. Dorame always made sure they all aimed as high as they wanted.  

“It's good to have goals so that you can accomplish whatever you want to do. It’s also good to just be yourself. Everybody has their own things that they have to deal with in life,” she said.  

It’s this type of support Dorame says has made her degrees possible. Between her husband, family, friends and colleagues, she does believe that despite her own diligence, these people played fundamental roles in her abilities.  

“For me, definitely my family, of course. I would also like to thank OILS Distinguished Professor Emerita Charlotte ‘Lani’ Gunawardena, OILS Assistant Professor Amir Hedayati-Mehdiabadi, Native American Studies Director Tiffany Lee, Evangela Oates and OILS Program Manager Chris Larranaga,” Dorame said.  

That carefully thought out appreciation is something that is reflected in Dorame’s dissertation. Focused on Native women in leadership roles, Dorame’s doctoral work is a swan song to the Indigenous matriarchy.  

Nena and Grandma AlicePhoto caption: Dorame's daughter Nena and Grandma Alice

“I feel like it's about my matriarchs and my family. That's the inspiration for this– leaders, women leaders in the community and even my own colleagues, I see them as leaders, too. All of that together really inspired me to this whole dissertation path and journey,” she said. 

She spoke with numerous Native women who act as leaders in their own individual way, and may not even know it. In a combination of personal interviews and structured pedagogy she laid a path to leadership in higher education and beyond.  

“It was an experience interviewing these Native women. One of the things I did learn was that they were humbly hesitant to identify themselves as leaders right away. It was ironic for me because I didn't consider myself a leader as well,” Dorame said. “I agree with the women that your community is all about being a collective and working together and not about you putting yourself out there. It's okay when you come back into the educational space and say that you are a leader and step up and still help out in that sense.” 

The moment she submitted her work for final consideration, Dorame was overcome with emotion.  

“Oh, my God. I just fell to the floor even though I have a bum leg here. I just knelt down to the floor of my office thinking, ‘oh, my God, finally.’ I've been having this goal since sixth grade. I just was teary eyed. I finally accomplished this. It was my life goal and it was just such a journey,” she said.  

Part of it was bittersweet, however. Along the final stretch of work she had for her doctorate, Grandma Alice, at age 103, passed away. 

“That was a terrible time for our family. She lived a long fulfilling life. We really miss her. I feel like she's still around, though, with me. I think about her all the time and this whole dissertation is about her as well as my great grandmother,” Dorame said.  

That, along with two knee surgeries and eye surgery, postponed Dorame’s initial May 2023 graduation twice. 

“I couldn't even see the computer, so I really couldn't do anything over the summer. I was continuing with my research and I didn't realize the intensity of it, especially near the end. You're analyzing and doing that transcription and trying to do critical thinking and trying to figure out how and where this research was going,” she said.  

In her interview last year, she had said she may want to get another degree once she finished her doctorate. Now, she just wants to embrace the relaxing aspects of life–exercising, traveling, watching television, and spending time with family. 

“I’m not sure what I was thinking when I said that I may want to get another degree. Nope, for the moment, I need to just relax and have fun and watch TV. I want to get audio books and just do some leisurely reading or, better yet, listen to them. I am looking forward to just spending more time at home with my family and taking care of my mother,” Dorame said. 

You can still find Dorame in the basement of Zimmerman Library post-graduation. Such a large dream for her has been achieved, but she’s not ready to leave her home just yet. 

 Add a Comment



Enter your e-mail address to receive notifications of new posts by e-mail.


  Return to Blog
This post is closed for further discussion.